Mexico City by bike.

Surely you can’t cycle through Mexico City.

It’s a chaotic, crazy, polluted, frantic city of about 20 million people and almost as many cars. It’s so busy people push each other into train carriages on the metro, and the central business district drowns in traffic jams full of frustrated motorists on a daily basis.

The peak hour rush is more of a peak hour grind.

And yet, it is possible to cycle.

Sunday Ciclovia, or Cycleway, opens 55 kilometres of the central business district to cyclists, pedestrians, and rollerbladers with strollers from 8am – 2pm, and closes the streets to motor vehicles. People take over the famous Paseo de la Reforma and revel in the festival atmosphere of car-free streets. And, being Mexico, the bike ride feels like a party.

On the last Sunday of each month, the Ciclovía expands into a Ciclotón (longer route), stretching up to 97 kilometers across Mexico City and encompassing several highways.

During Ciclovia, hundreds of Chilangos (residents of Mexico City) and visitors cycle freely and happily through a portion of the CBD and soak up the renowned colonial architecture and aspects of the city that are rendered invisible by the daily grind.

But I don’t have a bike.

That’s ok. Bikes can be hired from various locations within the city, for a few pesos. Sturdy, comfortable bikes are available to all, as are helmets, and they offer people the opportunity to navigate the city in a unique manner.

Why?

Environmental activists and concerned Chilangos lobbied authorities for years to remove gas-guzzling motor vehicles from the city streets and reserve this space for cyclists and pedestrians. They did so to promote alternative transport and to encourage locals to consider moving around the city without a car. They also did it to allow cyclists to ride in peace and safety, even if only once a week, and to prove that cities can be returned to the people.

Plus, they wanted another excuse to smile, socialise and enjoy life, because this is Mexico.

Ciclovia began as “Muévete en bici” (Move by Bike) in 2007. It grew to become the fifth largest car-free day in Latin America, with an estimated 4.2 million total users. It has also reportedly altered the culture of the city, and the Non-Motorized Mobility Strategy Office has in turn created the ECOBICI bike-share program and a dedicated bike lane network.

Is it necessary?

Yes, Mexico City is an extremely polluted city, due largely to the number of motor vehicles using its roads every day. Such is the level of air pollution in the mega city that its forested park ‘Bosque de Chapultepec’ is known as los pulmones del DF, or the lungs of the capital.

Ciclovia happens every Sunday in Mexico City and is open to anyone on a bike, roller blades, skateboard, scooter or even their dos patas or two feet. It is a refreshing and fun way in which to explore a fascinating and bustling destination and it helps, ever so slightly, to breathe fresh air into the city.

If it can be done in Mexico City, it can be done in almost any city – even yours.